The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was host to a lot of difficult games over its time in the market. It was also home to many, uncommon games, some of which were ports of computer games. It even had a number of outright rare games like Hagane. It’s a system a lot of people collect for because it has many of these obscure titles.
Run, and gun games were also at their zenith around this time. Shmups were getting grander with Super R-Type, Gradius III, and UN Squadron. Run, and guns were right up there with the space shoot ’em ups on the Super NES. Excellent ports of Sunset Riders, and Smash TV. Gunforce. Contra III: The alien wars was probably the best received of the bunch. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Remember the obscurity I hinted at earlier? Well Vic Tokai published a fairly uncommon Contra III clone.
PROS: Nice graphics. Inventive character designs. High challenge.
CONS: No Continues. Some levels go on too long. Masochistic difficulty in places.
BOSSES: Most of the stages have three or more!
The Sales Curve, is part of Square Enix today. But long before a series of mergers, and takeovers they were a studio that made a lot of esoteric games. A lot of them were actually pretty good. You may have actually heard of their biggest game, Carmageddon. But even before then, they developed things for other publishers on a number of platforms. One of those things is today’s game Time Slip.
Published by Vic Tokai, Time Slip is a Contra clone that mixes things up with a Gradius clone. But it isn’t all Konami influences here either. There are a few key differences, and some nice features that are worth looking into. The storyline presented here isn’t the most original plot. You’ve seen it in other games, books, TV shows, and films before. A race of interstellar aliens wages war on Earth. Part of their plan is to go back in time to kill off humanity throughout history to prevent the present day humans from being formidable. When things look their bleakest, a lone scientist goes back in time, through several historical periods to defeat them single-handedly, and prevent humanity’s extinction.
The game plays a little bit different from Contra in a couple of ways. The art style is definitely similar, with enemies, and bosses you would expect to see in a Contra game. But you are going to die from anything that touches you instantly in Contra. That is not the case in Time Slip. Instead, you are given a life bar, and every hit you take knocks off one block of the life bar. If you lose all of the blocks, you lose a life. Falling into a pit, or a trap will knock all of them out instantly. The game starts you out with nine lives, and you can replenish your bar with batteries you find hidden in crates. The crates can also hold other power ups, like smart bombs, and missiles. Grabbing a battery with a full health bar will give you a 1-Up. You can also shoot down projectiles, which is another saving grace.
This is good because Time Slip doesn’t give you any continues. This may very well be the most difficult run, and gun on the console. The game goes on for six levels, and if you have any hope of completing it, you’re going to need to treat each box on that life bar as an individual life. There are also no cheat codes, save states, stage select options, or passwords. You have to play the entire thing in one sitting. You don’t even get an easy setting. You’re going to have to dig down deep, and do your best.
Time Slip also doesn’t make your task any easier with its play control. It isn’t as smooth as the games it borrows from. This is partly due to the fact that it has some clunky animation when you climb walls, or jump over obstacles. But it also has to do with the fact that there are two ways to shoot. You have a button that fires in any direction while your character stays still. In many places this creates a dilemma because if you stand still, enemies will just spawn endlessly. But it can be handy in some sections where you need pixel perfect placement.
The other fire button is a bit more traditional as you can fire as you move. A third fire button lets you shoot your special weapons you’ve picked up, and the shoulder buttons let you select those. Fortunately, it isn’t all cinder blocks, and chains around your ankles. Time Slip can be a lot of fun. Over time you’ll level up your gun with pick ups, each speeding up your firing rate, and the spread of attack. Dying will downgrade you, but it’s all the more incentive to find batteries, and gun upgrades.
Beyond those there are a lot of the power ups I mentioned earlier. You should go as long as possible without using them however. Because you’re going to want them to use on the bosses. Time Slip has many, many bosses over the course of its six levels. A lot of them will feel out of Contra like the dragon, the volcanic monster, or the space ships. All of the bosses have intense patterns you need to memorize in order to escape without taking any hits. Which is all the more reason to not take damage. Because you’ll need every battery fueled 1-up in reserve if you want any hope of ever completing the game.
Each stage, save for one or two of them, is a long affair. Right out of the gate you’re thrust into a medieval themed stage where you’ll have a forest sub level followed by a boss. Then a cavern themed sub level. Followed by a boss. Followed by A BOSS. Then a castle themed level. FOLLOWED BY A BOSS. This is the kind of thing you can expect to experience while playing Time Slip. Some of the levels include shmup sections that feel a little bit more like Gradius. But these sections will throw an awful lot at you. Like the normal stages, you have two buttons, one to shoot in front of you, and one that will fire in the last direction you moved.
Fortunately the graphics, and sound are pretty good. The large sprites look vibrant, with a lot of great little details. The aliens, and the bosses in particular. The Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 effects are used especially well with things scaling to make some nice visual cues. The soundtrack isn’t something you might care to listen to on its own. But it fits the theme of the game nicely, with ambient moody synths. Explosions, and other sound effects are about what you’d expect from the time. Nothing Earth shattering, but nothing particularly memorable.
Time Slip is infuriating. Yet it is addictive. You’ll lose your last life, toss your controller, possibly even break your controller, and swear off of it. But then, ten minutes later, you’ll find yourself taking another crack at it. You’ll lose again. Then put it away for a while, and go back to it. Eventually it will go on the shelf for maybe even months or a year. But over time you’ll hear its call to make another feeble attempt at defeating it. Oh you’ll claim to hate it. But deep down you’ll know that had it only been given a little bit more balance, and given a difficulty setting option it may have been a lot more popular.
That isn’t to say that Contra III was easy. Far from it. But it had better pacing, and a more intuitive control setup. Those are really the main problems with Time Slip. A couple of stages could have stood to be broken up into more levels. The lack of continues, are going to upset many who happen to clear that long first stage. To its credit Time Slip’s power ups do make things a lot easier once you’ve mastered how they work on bosses. But it still can feel a bit like a chore if you immediately restart the game after losing all of your lives on the fourth stage or so.
Still, if like me, you enjoy collecting esoteric games I’d recommend Time Slip. There is enough interesting about it to justify having in the collection. It has cool characters, huge bosses, and great atmosphere. The controls do work the way they’re supposed to, you just have to be willing to get accustomed to them. I know I’m repeating myself, but the bosses, environments, weapons, and enemies make this worth picking up. It’s going to be a very difficult run for most of us. But it still manages to be a fun attempt at victory.
Final Score: 7 out of 10